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Frequent Questions About Environmental Managment Systems

  1. What are ISO, ISO 14000, and ISO 14001?
  2. How are these standards developed?
  3. What must a community do to have an EMS that meets the ISO 14001 standard?
  4. Is an Environmental Management System (EMS) Under ISO 14001 Relevant to Communities?
  5. What are some of the potential benefits of an EMS based on ISO 14001?
  6. Can existing environmental management activities be integrated into the EMS under 14001?
  7. Why is the U.S. EPA interested in promoting EMS's under ISO 14001?

1. What are ISO, ISO 14000, and ISO 14001?


ISO stands for the International Organization for Standardization Exit, located in Geneva, Switzerland. ISO promotes the development and implementation of voluntary international standards, both for particular products and for environmental management issues. ISO 14000  Exit refers to a series of voluntary standards in the environmental field under development by ISO. Included in the ISO 14000 series are the ISO 14001:2015 Environmental Management System (EMS) standard and other standards in fields such as environmental auditing, environmental performance evaluation, environmental labeling, and life-cycle assessment. The EMS and auditing standards were recently revised and published in September 2015.

2. How are these standards developed?


All the ISO standards are developed through a voluntary, consensus-based approach. Each member country of ISO develops its position on the standards and these positions are then negotiated with other member countries. Draft versions of the standards are sent out for formal written comment and each country casts its official vote on the drafts at the appropriate stage of the process. Within each country, various types of organizations can and do participate in the process including industry, government (federal and state), and other interested parties, including various non-government organizations (NGOs). For example, EPA and states participated in the development of the ISO 14001 standard Exit, including the evaluation of its usefulness through a variety of pilot projects.

3. What must a community do to have an EMS that meets the ISO 14001 standard?


The ISO 14001:2015 standard requires that a community or organization put in place and implement a series of practices and procedures that, when taken together, result in an environmental management system. ISO 14001:2015 is not a technical standard and as such does not in any way replace technical requirements embodied in statutes or regulations. It also does not set prescribed standards of performance for organizations. The major requirements of an EMS under ISO 14001:2015 include:

A policy statement which includes commitments to prevention of pollution, continual improvement of the EMS leading to improvements in overall environmental performance, and compliance with all applicable statutory and regulatory requirements.

  • Identification of all aspects of the community organization's activities, products, and services that could have a significant impact on the environment, including those that are not regulated.
  • Setting peformance objectives and targets for the management system which link back to the three commitments established in the community or organization's policy (i.e., prevention of pollution, continual impovement, and compliance).
  • Implementing the EMS to meet these objectives. This includes activities like training of employees, establishing work instructions and practices, and establishing the actual metrics by which the objectives and targets will be measured.
  • Establishing a program to periodically audit the operation of the EMS.
  • Checking and taking corrective and preventive actions when deviations from the EMS occur, including periodically evaluating the organization's compliance with applicable regulatory requirements.
  • Undertaking periodic reviews of the EMS by top management to ensure its continuing performance and making adjustements to it, as necessary.

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4. Is an EMS under ISO 14001 relevant to communities?


Yes. Because ISO 14001:2015 is essentially a system designed to help communities and other types of organizations meet their environmental obligations and reduce the impact of their operations on the environment, it is relevant to all types of organizations. Counties, municipalities, towns, and townships typically oversee a number of separate facilities and operations. EMS's can be used as a framework to help these operations improve their environmental performance and make greater use of pollution prevention approaches. Use of the standard by counties is not well established at this point, but some are beginning to use it . For example, Washtenaw County, Michigan is implementing an EMS based on ISO 14001 for its Sheriff's Department and participated in an earlier series of demonstration projects funded by EPA. The EPA now wants to expand this approach and work with additional counties and municipalities.

5. What are some of the potential benefits of an EMS based on ISO 14001?

  • Improvements in overall environmental performance and compliance.
  • Provide a framework for using pollution prevention practices to meet EMS objectives.
  • Increased efficiency and potential cost savings when managing environmental obligagtions.
  • Promote predictability and consistency in managing environmental obligations.
  • More effective targeting of scarce environmental management resources.
  • Enhance public posture with outside stakeholders.

6. Can existing environmental management activities be integrated into the EMS under ISO 14001?


Yes. The standard is flexible and does not require organizations to necessarily "retool" their existing activities. The standard establishes a management framework by which an organization's impacts on the environment can be systematically identified and reduced. For example, many organizations, including counties and municipalities, have active and effective pollution prevention activities underway. These could be incorporated into the overall EMS under ISO 14001:2015.

7. Why is the U.S. EPA interested in promoting EMS's under ISO 14001?


Like a number of states, EPA believes environmental management systems, if implemented properly, could serve as a valuable tool to help organizations improve their environmental peformance, increase the use of pollution prevention, and improve compliance. However, this premise needs to be evaluated closely, working with a variey of organizations, including those in the public sector. EMS's could, in the future, serve as the basis for providing regulatory flexibility to organizations that successfully implement them.

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